Artwork Focus: Saung | Intersection Yangon (2018)

Artwork Focus introduces artworks featured in Nicola Anthony’s most recent exhibitions, offering deeper insight into the inspiration and process behind Nicola’s creative process. This article explores Saung, a series of three paper sculptures that took part in Intersection Yangon held at Myanm/art Gallery (Yangon, Myanmar) from 23 March till 8 April 2018.

Written by Debbie Cheung | Photographs courtesy of Nicola Anthony | Haiku courtesy of Marc Nair


 

Exhibition view of the Saung series, Intersection Yangon, 2018
Exhibition view of the Saung series, Intersection Yangon, 2018

 

Suspended in mid-air and paired with evocative haiku written by poet Marc Nair, three delicate paper sculptures strike an ethereal image, casting intricate shadows on the wall behind. Boat-like in shape, with strings attached from the body to the elegantly curved neck, Humming History, Paper Notes, and Arpeggio take as their inspiration the traditional court instrument of Burma (as Myanmar was known in ancient times): the saung, a harp carved from the root of a tree and strung with silk.

 

1M-7l0VRGf4WYtJzLG3h5XvVpSTZc-nDONicola Anthony, Humming History (Burmese Harp), 2018, incense-burnt calligraphy paper, ink, stainless steel, 30x30x10 cm.
Nicola Anthony, Humming History (Burmese Harp), 2018, incense-burnt calligraphy paper, ink, stainless steel, 30x30x10 cm.

Dancing voices lead,
retreat, keep watch in the eaves;
humming history

– Haiku accompaniment to ‘Humming History’, by Marc Nair

 

Whereas the traditional saung is imperial in its gilded intricacies and polished sheen, Nicola renders the harp back to its most basic form and imbues an element of fragility through her signature use of inked paper burnt with incense. Such contrast in materials may well be a nod to the tentative relationship between Myanmar’s perpetually shifting socio-political landscape and its cultural heritage, heavy with nostalgia and clouded in the dust of modernization.

Nicola Anthony, Paper Notes (Burmese Harp), 2018, incense-burnt calligraphy paper, ink, stainless steel, 30x30x10 cm.
Nicola Anthony, Paper Notes (Burmese Harp), 2018, incense-burnt calligraphy paper, ink, stainless steel, 30x30x10 cm.

Paper notes float
above the sprung city, growing
up too quickly

– Haiku accompaniment to ‘Paper Notes’, by Marc Nair

 

Speaking of such a phenomenon, Nicola emphasizes the significance of artisans and creatives within this climate of social transformation:

Within this Myanmar which is stuck in a time warp, struggling to keep hold of the past as well as dance towards the future, it is now the singers, artists and musicians who often capture the thoughts of the nation with their newfound freedom of expression – and especially in forward-pushing Yangon. […] Music brings connection and catharsis to many.

By transforming something traditionally sacred and regal into a representation made of humble materials, it may seem as though the artworks address issues of lost cultural heritage in the face of national change. However, Humming History, Paper Notes, and Arpeggio also carry messages of hope. For in the fragility of paper marked with incense burns is a resilience that shines through the scars, incorporating itself into the tapestry that is Myanmar’s past, present, and future.

Flying arpeggios;
chords held above the sky;
here the birds soar high

– Haiku accompaniment to ‘Arpeggios’, by Marc Nair

 

Nicola Anthony, Arpeggios (Burmese Harp), 2018, incense-burnt calligraphy paper, ink, stainless steel, 30x30x10 cm.
Nicola Anthony, Arpeggios (Burmese Harp), 2018, incense-burnt calligraphy paper, ink, stainless steel, 30x30x10 cm.

Saung was on show at Intersection Yangon (Myanm/art Gallery, Yangon, Myanmar), from 23 March till 8 April 2018.

Intersection Yangon Press feature:
Myanmore, ‘International artists mix poetry and visuals in new Yangon exhibition’, March 14 2018.

The Straits Times, ‘An encounter between poetry and visual art from Singapore & Yangon by Nicola Anthony (UK) and Marc Nair (Singapore)’, 26 March 2018.

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